Democrats seek voting data from Manatee County Elections chief

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 17, 2014 

From left: Skip Parrish, Cornell Maxfield, Patricia Benson, Mike Bennett and Scott Farrington, Manatee County assistant supervisor of elections.SARA KENNEDY/skennedy@bradenton.com

BRADENTON -- Leaders of the local Democratic Party and a black voters' advocacy group Wednesday sought voting data from the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office in order to evaluate what effect closing almost 30 percent of polling places would have on minority voters.

But Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett told them he did not have the information they were seeking.

"I do not have the codes. I'm not required to create those codes," Bennett told Patricia Benson, Democratic Party chairman, who was accompanied by computer observer Skip Parrish and Cornelle Maxfield, president of the Manatee-Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus.

Bennett told the group he would get them anything they wanted, but they would have to pay the cost of extracting the data they sought, called geo codes, from his computer software.

Benson's computer observer, Skip Parrish, replied: "If you possess the data, whether you print a report or not, it still is in there."

"The fact you've never used them doesn't mean you're under no obligation to comply," said Maxfield.

Bennett disagreed.

After the meeting, Benson said: "I'm not (angry) that the voting places were closed. I'm actually (angry) about the difficulty of getting to them."

She told Bennett minority voters may have difficulty getting to the polls because they lack cars and may not be able to take a bus.

She was particularly concerned about elderly Palmetto voters who previously walked to polls near their homes but would now have to cross busy U.S. 41 in order to reach a newly designated early voting site at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd.

Earlier, Bennett met with Carolyn Thompson, a representative of a nonpartisan voter advocacy group called the Advancement Project.

"Our main purpose is to make elections stay free, fair and accessible," she said as she left the supervisor's office at 600 301 Blvd. W., Suite 108. She declined further comment.

Last winter, the Manatee County Commission OK'd Bennett's recommendation to cut the number of polling locations by almost 30 percent, drawing fire from those who said minority and poorer voters would bear the greatest share of the inconvenience. From 99 original polling locations, the elections office closed 34 and opened five new ones, for a total of 70 polling locations, including one location that was originally going to be closed, but was later added back in.

The elections office also opened three more early voting sites in addition to the supervisor's Bradenton office, which has been used previously for early voting.

This year's primary election is set for Aug. 26. Early voting begins Aug. 16 and ends Aug. 23. The general election is set for Nov. 4, with early voting to begin Oct. 25 and end Nov. 1.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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